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January 28, 2004
Pentagon Defends Planned Arms Cuts

Tom Z. Collina

Responding to criticism that the START follow-on treaty, or New START, should wait until the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is completed early next year, the Pentagon announced in August that the U.S. negotiating positions for New START had been cleared by the NPR interagency process.

Administration critics have argued that President Barack Obama should not have committed the United States to lower arsenal levels at his July 6 meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, given that the NPR has not been completed. John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, said in USA Today July 9 that Obama has not articulated a strategic rationale for the arsenal reductions. Obama “made these commitments without waiting for an up-to-date ‘nuclear posture review,’ the definitive mechanism for assessing America’s strategic needs,” Bolton said.

The Department of Defense disputed that point. “[The] NPR and [START] Follow-on treaty negotiations are closely coordinated to ensure that the U.S. negotiating positions are fully consistent with ongoing NPR analysis concerning nuclear policy, strategy and force structure,” according to an Aug. 6 Pentagon fact sheet on the NPR process. “The NPR made it an early priority to accomplish the analysis necessary to support the START Follow-on treaty negotiations.”

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher made similar comments at a U.S. Strategic Command conference in July. “While the NPR’s work is still going on, it will inform the positions we take as we negotiate the New START…with Russia. The United States’ positions in the treaty negotiations are fully consistent with the nuclear policy strategy and force structure being developed in the NPR,” she said.

The NPR covers U.S. nuclear deterrence policy and strategy for the next five to 10 years. It will analyze the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy, the size and composition of nuclear forces needed to support that strategy, and the measures needed to maintain a “safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent posture” without nuclear testing, the Pentagon said.

The NPR will recommend actions that are consistent with Obama’s April 5 speech in Prague and will “support a new approach to arms control that reflects the current and future international environment,” the Defense Department said.

In Prague, Obama stated that “the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” But he also said, “As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”

Although the review will look at ways to reduce the “role and number” of nuclear weapons, there is no “pre-determined” level of arms reductions in the NPR, and “the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is not anticipated in the timeframe of this review,” the Pentagon said. However, the NPR is examining how to continue to provide extended deterrence to U.S. allies “in a manner consistent with the long-term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons,” the department said.

The NPR is also looking at less-rosy scenarios, including the possibility that New START does not enter into force and that the “reset of the U.S.-Russian relationship does not continue,” the Pentagon said.

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The NPR was mandated by Congress; previous reviews were conducted in 1994 and 2001. The results are scheduled to be submitted to Congress in February 2010 and will include an unclassified version. The report will be submitted along with the Ballistic Missile Defense Review, except for the European defense section, which has been accelerated, and the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

The NPR is being led by the Pentagon, in cooperation with the Departments of State and Energy. Primary Pentagon responsibility lies with Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

Michael Nacht, assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, supervises the day-to-day operations of the NPR and reports to Flournoy and James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary for policy.

Two NPR co-directors run the day-to-day operations: Brad Roberts, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and ballistic missile defense policy, and Rear Adm. Philip Davidson, deputy director for strategy and policy on the JCS.

There are four working groups, consisting of “interagency stakeholders,” including policy and strategy; capabilities, force structure, and programs; nuclear weapons stockpile and infrastructure; and international dimensions.

As part of the process, the Defense Department says it is reaching out for input from experts that participated in previous reviews, U.S. allies, members of Congress and staff, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, and academics.